I have been thinking a great deal about readers advisory (RA) and how it relates to circulation. Even though we in “Library Land” know the libraries do so much more than recommend great books, I think we sometimes forget how vital readers advisory is to marketing libraries. It is, after all, our core line of business. Good book recommendations from professionals who have actually read the book is what the majority of the population (especially those who have not been in a library in a while) think of when they think of libraries.
Here is RA defined by Wikipedia: (Gasp! I know!)
“Readers’ advisory (sometimes spelled readers advisory or reader’s advisory) is a service which involves suggesting fiction and nonfiction titles to a reader through direct or indirect means. This service is a fundamental library service; however, readers’ advisory also occurs in commercial contexts such as bookstores. Currently, almost all North American public libraries offer some form of readers’ advisory.”
My favorite part of this definition is “through direct or indirect means.” Direct or indirect seems to insinuate that there are many ways for libraries to reach our readers. From the online recommendations through interactive catalogs to patron developed book clubs, most of us are conducting readers advisory every day. But there are two ways to conceive of readers advisory: the push and the pull.
The push of readers advisory is the more familiar to most of us. We create displays around a given topic, we put all of our newest material on a browsing shelf in a prominent place. We create “read alike” lists for our most loyal and fervent patrons (but that’s the easy part because they already love us). Some libraries even go so far as to train their staff in walking through the stalks to offer assistance to browsers. But the transaction generally ends there.
The pull, however, is a whole different act. The pull means we look to establish a relationship with our patrons based on what they are already reading. I have an Event Producer in my department who is currently looking at the lists of fiction and non fiction titles that have been checked out the most with an aim to develop programming that complements what our patrons are already reading and then pull those readers into our buidlings, and into wonderful conversations about great books. This is when the interaction between libraries and our patrons really gets rich. We are able to demonstrate to them that we know what they are reading and what they like and we are willing to support that by enriching the reading experience through dialogue, historical and cultural context, and providing the connection between the patron and the community in which they live.
Readers Advisory and the way patrons connect with their local library is at its best when the push is complemented by the pull. Just as “for-profit” organizations feel obligated to know their customers, we too have an obligation to know our patrons and the pull can be so very helpful in informing the push.
Finally, let’s not forget the role our collections departments play in helping us push and pull so well. Currently, our collections department is looking at how to make some really tough decisions about how to allocate funds. The more knowledge collections departments have about the push and the pull that is going on in our library system, the better equipped they are to make the right purchases at the right time. A local colleague of mine has co-authored a book titled The Readers’Advisory Handbook. It’s a brilliant “how to” for the busy librarian and even contains a whole section on Marketing, Promoting, and Sharing materials. You can find the link to Katie Mediatore Stover and Jessica Stover’s book here.
So let’s remember that readers advisory matters. It matters a great deal. It’s who we have been, who we are, and who we will always be if we do it well.
Kasey Riley is the Communications Manager at the Johnson County Library in Johnson County, Missouri.